The scheme was initially called Gym for Free and was launched in February 2008 in the Ladywood Constituency to 100,000 residents as a joint initiative between NHS Heart of Birmingham tPCT and Birmingham City Council.
Gym for Free offered free swimming, fitness classes, and gym sessions to all of the residents of the constituency as long as they exercised at least 4 times per month. There was no upper limit to the number of times they could attend exercise sessions and the only other criteria was residency within the constituency.
Initially there were only 95 people across Ladywood regularly exercising on the local authorities direct debit scheme (the closest benchmark). Within 6 months there were 7,000 people on the Gym For Free scheme. Demand was through the roof and people were queuing for up to 2 hours to access sessions.
By November 2008 the scheme was rolled out to the rest of the Heart of Birmingham PCT area, some 300,000 people.
The scheme continued to prove successful and won a number of awards for tackling health inequalities and also social marketing.
Results from the early qualitative evaluation demonstrated that:
- Price is a barrier to participation
- Access to free exercise increased people’s likelihood to participate
- Hard to reach groups including women and ethnic minority communities engaged with the scheme
- Regular exercise increased participants self reported sense of wellbeing
- Participation on the scheme increased participant demand for other lifestyle information such as smoking cessation and alcohol advice.
Discussions began with the 3 PCTs across Birmingham to see if there could be a city wide offer for residents using the Gym for Free pilot model.
On 1st September 2009 the scheme went live to all 1.1 million people in the city. The scheme was renamed Be active and all 50,000 members of the Gym for free scheme were transferred across.
The scheme now also provides classes at community centres and other venues that aren’t leisure centres to ensure as much access to the community as possible.